Search engine optimization remains one of the most effective things you can do to maximize your inbound marketing, but the rules are always changing. Recently Martin Laetsch, Act-On’s Director of Online Marketing, presented a webinar covering the 10 most important rules for successful search engine optimization. Not all of them are 100% new, but they’re all critical keys to success. The webinar is too dense to do a full recap; in this post, we’ll just cover Rule #1. You can catch up with the whole on-demand session here.

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First, a quick overview:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of making a site and its content highly relevant for search engines and searchers. When successful, it helps a site gain ranking for relevant words and phrases.
  • Paid search marketing/pay-per-click (PPC) marketing is a type of search marketing where advertisers pay a set amount every time their ad is clicked by a prospect.
  • Search engine marketing (SEM) is a combination of the two. It entails putting content in front of people who overtly and explicitly express a desire, via keywords, for a particular product, service, or piece of information.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the #1 most important thing you can do to rank well in SEM world:

Create content with your audience in mind.

  • Write for your audience, and you’ll create content for customers and prospects, as well as ranking higher in SE algorithms.
  • Search engines make money by recommending best content for a given search, so the better your content is, the higher the chance that it will be seen.
  • If you try to game the system, it will likely backfire, so just don’t do it. In 2012, Google implemented the following adorably named algorithms:

These algorithms are nearly impossible to circumvent, and Google doesn’t mess around with those who break the rules – in 2012 alone, BMW, JC Penney, Overstock, and Forbes were all removed from Google’s index for trying to game the system.

Another important thing to keep in mind is to speak the searcher’s language. Most industries have their own specific lexicon, and you should use keywords with that in mind.

Develop an initial keyword list and compile a definitive list of keywords or phrases that when used should enable customers to find your content. You can do this in a number of ways:

  • Analyze existing search engine referrals.
  • Research external keyword databases.
  • List product names (and generic equivalents).
  • Ask your customers what they would type into a search engine if they were looking for your product.

Develop the searcher profile and persona. Who is the searcher? Who is looking for the information on your website? Is it someone who…

  • Is looking for a general category of info?
  • Wants a specific solution?
  • Owns one of your products and needs help?

Define the searcher’s mindset. Why are they searching? Do they want to…

  • Purchase a product or solution?
  • Learn about a product or solution?
  • Solve a specific problem?
  • Understand a product category?

Map your important keywords to pages on your site.

  • Look at each page on your site—what words do you think each is relevant for?
  • Look at the pages again—are you using the words?
  • Try searching for your own site with those words. If it’s not showing up, you have a problem.

Optimize your site content for search engines by…

Writing for SEO.

  • Choose one keyword phrase that is targeted for each page, and try to include each keyword phrase three to four times within your copy, but there’s no golden rule for an ideal keyword density—if it sounds awkward, rewrite it.
  • Use the exact term, with the words in the exact same order each time.
  • Longer copy provides a better opportunity for keywords and lets you provide more information for visitors. 300 words is a good target, but page length should be dictated by message – don’t feel the need to draw out or cut down your content just to be at that number.
  • Putting keywords in your…
    • Title tag
    • URL
    • Headlines and sub-headlines (H1 and H2 tags)
    • Call to action (CTA) links (hyperlinks)
    • Main body text copy, from top to bottom

Get quality links. It’s important. Seriously.

People link because of compelling content – they want to share it with others. This is the most important result of having good links.

People also link as a result of having had a great or terrible experience with brand. If they had a great experience, they’re probably promoting it with their friends; if not, they’re probably warning friends away from it.

So how can you get links?

  • Write compelling content and let people know it exists.
  • Provide helpful information.
  • Network—people are more likely to link to people they know than to strangers.
  • Social media: search engines take notice of what links show up on social media.

This takes us into the final factor to content creation: social media’s relationship to SEO. Social signals are important in the early stages of ranking. If influential people share content, you’ll get higher exposure for the short run; if they link, it helps in the long run, as Google will notice and add ranking signals to your content.

To facilitate social media SEO optimization…

  • Include social buttons on every page of your site, and in all blog posts, press releases, and outbound communication.
  • Focus on the channels your customers use. It’s better to do a thorough job in just one often-visited channel than poorly in three.
  • Keep in mind that Google has made it clear that social signals play a role in its algorithm; Google+ is going to have the biggest role in your ranking.

The main point to all this is: create content people want to share. People like sharing interesting information; it builds credibility, creating the image that the sharer is in the know, and consistently sharing good information increases your audience. Good information also helps visitors and increases your authority on a subject – use white papers, case studies, fun facts, educational material, research results, thought-provoking blog posts, how-to articles, top 10 lists, and more to share your information in innovative and easy-to-read ways.

Watch the whole webinar: The 10 New Rules for SEO

Act-On customers: If you’d like to learn about Act-On Inbound, Act-On’s new features for search engine and AdWord optimization, click here to schedule a demo.